UPDATE (November 2008):
She didn't get the nomination and she didn't switch parties to run. Lee Myung-bak is now president.
UPDATE (June 17, 2007):
On Monday in Seoul (Sunday in the US), Ms. Han announced she is running for president, so my "next president" prediction might still turn out to be true, even if I got the "how" and "why" wrong.
UPDATE (April 30, 2007):
Okay, so the February 25 date has come and gone and not only has Roh not resigned, Han is no longer PM. But she still might be the next president if she runs.
I used to care about being the first to break a Korea-related story in the Korea-related blogosphere. I had dreams that my post on the matter would be cited by all the other blogs, and I would gain some legendary status in the blogosphere. Then there would be detractors jealous of my fame or fearful of my influence—some Korean, some kyopo, some crackers—viciously trying to bring me down, even to the point of tracking me down or keying my pimped-out minivan. Then I'd have to use all my AdSense profits to hire body guards. One of them would look like Kevin Costner and try to come on to me. But as I've repeatedly made clear on Space Nakji's blog, I don't swing that way.
Okay, so blog-fame has its price. But anyway, none of this came to any fruition because I usually am NOT acknowledged even when I'm the first to bring something into K-blogdom. I've found, much to my dismay, that I gain notice primarily when I provide profanity-ridden posts that make fun of some group.
So I was not too disappointed that I was not the first to bring news that we in Korea now have our first female prime minister (I say we even though I can't vote, because my taxes pay her salary; besides, nobody really votes for the prime minister anyway).
In fact, being fifth or sixth out the gate on this one, I've realized that it has given me a chance to try a different route. For shorthand purposes, I'm going to call this the Baduk route. It involves making wildly outrageous soothsaying that could end up being true.
Baduk is, as everybody knows, absolutely certifiable. Yet he is well-known, even being written up in the local press, because of his very vocal pronouncement that Dr. Hwang Woo-suk was a fraud. At the time, he was considered nuts, but after Dr. Hwang went down in flames, Baduk was respected. Still considered nuts, but respected—sort of a modern-day Emperor Norton.
And so I'm going to make such a prediction: Prime Minister Han Myŏngsuk (does she spell her name Han Myung Sook? Not sure, but I'll leave that in there for googling purposes) will be Korea's next president.
In and of itself, that is not such a profound prognostication, except that I am predicting she will become President sometime next year, most likely in January or February (or possibly December or March). Or more specifically, Acting President.
How she gets there is clear, and it will involve very little work on her part: President Roh Moohyun is going to quit. President Roh is not up for the job, but the fact is that he himself knows it. He tells us this all the time, and just to drive the point home, he proves it on occasion.
President Roh has also made the case that Korea should adopt a different system for its leadership: either the parliamentary system (as in Japan or Britain) where the ruling party or a ruling coalition chooses the Premier (not a President) from amongst themselves; or an American-like presidential system where the President is chosen by the people (directly or indirectly) and serves for a shorter term (e.g., four years) and can stand for re-election.
President Roh seems to prefer the American-style system, and he has said several times that five years is just too long for one person to serve. And again, to drive this point home, he demonstrates the disaster of being stuck with someone for five long years.
President Roh seems to think that it's okay for a presidential incumbent to run again, but that he wouldn't choose that path. Not that the voters would want him to anyway.
President Roh seems to have run because he wanted to prove that a leftist radical could make it to the Blue House. Fine, he's done that. But he also doesn't feel up for being there for five years. In fact, he offered to quit if enough of the public wanted to get rid of him (although it's probably good that he didn't resign during the impeachment, because that would have made it too easy for an opposition to remove a democratically elected leader).
So when the four-year mark on his tenure rolls around (which is February 25, 2007, by the way), expect him to make a "symbolic gesture" in support of his proposal of adopting the American system by resigning. He will resign and Han Myŏngsuk will be Acting President. With the constitutionally determined presidential election scheduled for Novemeber or December of that year anyway, there will be little public support for having Acting President Han replaced in an early election; even if such an election were to go ahead, she will likely be kept in the job anyway, making her a full-fledged President.
This must have great appeal for President Roh. He has been unable to put his mark on anything significant. He is well on his way to tanking Seoul-Tokyo relations, Seoul-Washington relations, but without corresponding improvement of either Seoul-Beijing relations or Seoul-Pyongyang relations. The capital is staying in Seoul, although Seoul will be one-fifth its current size, and Kangnam real estate is still in the stratosphere.
There's nothing left for him to put a positive mark on except effecting a change in the nature of ROK's leadership. Like Ben Kenobi letting Darth Vader strike him down in that first Star Wars flick (the one actually titled "Star Wars"), his self-sacrifice will be what makes him an immortal force in the future. It's just too appealing.
So here's hoping that PM Han can be a competent leader. I already like her for having stated that the Tokto/Takeshima crisis needs to be handled in a cool-headed way. If she does nothing other than temper the childish rantings of the Roh administration, she will be worth her salary. If she can find a way to insert a backbone into the administration when it comes to dealing with Pyongyang and Beijing, while bringing some pragmatism in dealing with Korea's closest allies, Washington and Tokyo, then she deserves a raise.
Oh, and Niels Footman, when Acting President Han is sworn in, let me know the address of the Joongang Daily so I can send you some 8x10 head shots for you to use in your column. Sphere: Related Content